The best answer to gang violence, rally speakers said repeatedly after a determined march in Saturday morning rain, is found within families.
Not churches, though many were prominently involved in the event.
Not law enforcement, though several high-ranking officers showed up and walked with about 135 marchers.
Not school programs, though educators joined the throng.
Sure, all play important parts in rescuing and training and providing options to gang membership, most agreed. But the theme that emerged time and again, from young and old alike, directed attention to society's most basic unit: families.
"Everything flows from the home," said Maria Lua, a 17-year-old Ceres High School student, imploring parents to get deeply involved in the lives of their children. "We need to feel there is someone there for us, that we're not alone."
A steady drizzle kept organizers from realizing a dream of about 1,000 people marching from the Stanislaus County Courthouse along H Street, past the spot where a stray bullet pierced the abdomen of 22-month-old Josue Becerra a month earlier.
The bullet remains lodged in the boy's kidney, though he has been released from the hospital. The man accused of being the shooter and two others accused of being accomplices are to be arraigned Wednesday.
A spate of violence has prompted intense gang suppression, several forums and countless calls for someone to do something. Many in Saturday's audience said caring parents have more influence than anyone else in a young person's life.
"I'm an example" of someone who escaped a gang lifestyle, said Balvino Irrizary, president of the Hispanic Leadership Council and a former city councilman. He was raised in Modesto's tough airport neighborhood, he said, but the love of family left him without the hole that some misguided youths fill with gang activity, he said.
"My father and mother always knew where we were," Irrizary said.
The Modesto City Council's most recent addition, Dave Lopez, told similar stories of growing up in west Modesto and resisting recruitment into the West Side Familia, a false substitute for his real family.
"It's alluring out there," Lopez told parents. "Make your house an appealing place."
Gina Edwards, who "saw a lot of death from gangs" as a child in Southern California, now has four boys of her own. She said parents sometimes cannot afford to let children choose their buddies.
"It starts in the home," she said. "If they're hanging with someone in a gang, you need to end the friendship."
The enthusiastic audience grew quiet when Daniel Muhammad stepped to the microphone, his earnest words tinged with street lingo. He later said he arrived three weeks ago from Atlanta and is trying to "leave some demons in the past."
"If you want to stop gangs, it's in the household, you know what I'm saying?" Muhammad said. "If they don't find love in the household, they're going to find it in the streets, you know what I'm saying? Be your kids' parents."
Others with ministries reminded the crowd that gang members are people, too.
"No one was born to be a drug user, a drug pusher or a hater of mankind," said James Anderson, pastor of Christian Love Baptist Church.
Marvin Jacobo, whose Tapestry group mentors youths in high-risk neighborhoods, urged people to see what gang members might become with loving guidance.
Ken Sylvia, 23, also with Tapestry, said Jesus Christ hates the sin but loves the sinner.
"I'm sorry, but that is someone's child," Sylvia said. "Don't call him a good-for-nothing hoodlum. We've got to love these people. We're not going to win by hating them back."
Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden, a father of seven, acknowledged grateful applause for his detectives having tracked down the parolees suspected in the shooting of Josue as he played in front of his home. But arrests don't erase a family's heartache or needless suffering, he said.
"I know what it takes to be a father -- a lot of hard work," Wasden said. "Too many fathers walk out on their families and start using drugs. We must help families succeed."
Young members of the Youth Action Commission of Stanislaus County, a recently formed leadership group, urged people to join a walk-a-thon at 10 a.m. June 28 in Roosevelt Park. They're promoting physical, mental and spiritual health, several said. For details, call 818-357-0416.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.